Reviews.Tom Strong, American Gods.

Tom Strong, by Allen Moore, etc.

Maybe I haven’t read enough comic books. Then again, Lee read this after I did and agreed with me, and he’s read some serious comic books, from what I understand.

I don’t get what Allen Moore is trying to do here.

I understand the grosser points — he’s making fun of all sorts of things. British Imperialism. Science heroes. The way we perceive villains (are they the real villians? do we just see them as villains because they’re against us? what’s more important, victory or justice? etc). Racism. The internet. Fans. (The big stuff gets the acid; the little stuff gets the seltzer bottle.)

But the structure? Jeez. It seems more like a best-of Tom Strong collection (out of a run of hundreds of issues) rather than the first –what, six? eight?– issues of a comic. Time is not linear. The origins of the side characters are glossed over. We’re supposed to be shocked by plot twists that mean nothing, because we don’t know the villains and heroes involved. I have no problem with messing around with structure, time use, plot twists, irony, etc., but…well? What’s he trying to do?

I don’t get it.

It’s like…it’s like…maybe a couple of you English Lit types will get this. Bertold Brecht’s theory of playwriting was that it’s the job of the writer to distance the audience from the play itself as much as possible, so the audience can take an objective look at the situation. War, burgeouis society, etc., these were all subject that don’t go well with the high wit of an Oscar Wilde or Moliere, not the way Brecht felt about them.

It’s like Allen Moore is trying to do the same thing, but he’s left out the bitterness that makes Brecht comprehensible. The little details that throw everything into perspective. He does it well in the first episode — mainly through the mother’s character. After that, he doesn’t bother.

Compare Tom Strong to the League of Extraordinary Genglemen, and you’ll see what I mean.

What? What’s the message? What are you trying to say?

American Gods. Neil Gaiman.

This was also a frustrating book for me to read, so if you’ve read it and liked it, you shouldn’t read this review. It’s been built up so much…and I was so let down. This is a good book to pass a couple of summer afternoons with, especially if you haven’t read any Neil Gaiman. If you have (especially the Sandman), you’re going to feel a little cheated. The characters are nobody to write home about.

This is a book about how the gods deal with America, a 450-page book, and the ideas herein contained are more poigniantly contained in a single chapter of the “Brief Lives” sequence. American Gods is not without its good moments, its interesting factoids, and its familiar scenery. And if this is the book that introduces new readers to the Sandman, in the balance there has been no harm done.

I don’t think Mr. Gaiman has a handle on his talents yet as a prose writer, yet I can’t pass up anything he writes for the comics. I don’t know how this can be — but it is.

Liked the book and still don’t see what I’m saying? My suggestion: pick up a novel you think of as well-written, put it alongside American Gods, and perform a flip test. That’s right, riffle the pages until you stop. Pick a paragraph (or so) and read it. Compare the results of the two:

“Shadow took the orange uniform and the handcuffs and leg hobbles, put them in the brown paper bag that had briefly held his possessions, folded the whole thing up, and dropped it into a garbage can. They had been waiting for ten minutes when a barrel-chested young man came out of an airport door and walked over to them. He was eating a packet of Burger King french fries. Shadow recognized him immediately: he had sat in the back of the car , when they had left the House on the Rock, and hummed so deeply the car vibrated. He now sported a white-streaked winter beard he had not had before. It made him look older.” — American Gods.

“I replaced her rings, her bracelets, her combs, before I closed the grave, and that was Lorraine. All that she had ever been or wanted to be had come to this, and that is the whole story of how we met and how we parted, Lorraine and I, in the land called Lorraine, and it is like onto my life, I guess, for a Prince of Amber is part and party to all the rottenness that is in the words, which is why whenever I speak of my conscience, something else within me must answer, “Ha!” […] But whatever…until that time, I shall not wash my hands nor let them hang useless.” — The Guns of Avalon (Roger Zelazny).

Meanwhile, I twiddle my thumbs, still hoping for high things from Mr. Gaiman.